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Poster: AltheaRose Date: Aug 20, 2011 7:48pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Dead and 'Politics'

Well, I haven't listened to it a lot -- I don't think I even have a copy of a show with that in it, actually -- so my reaction is more instinctive. I like your interpretation, though I haven't heard it as a reference to the performer on the stage and distance from the audience.

Of course, when I think about it, you're right that it's not explicitly political or prescriptive ... it's really a lot like Throwin Stones. Actually, VERY much like it, in the sense that it starts way up in the sky and then takes a tour of the political or global situation before concluding with a version of ... well, not shake your bones in this case, but savor the moment or Be Here Now.

So, why do I react to them differently and think of SotM as more directly political? On reflection, I think I should really just say "less successful." I think it's partly that it's just so explicitly referential, and the "name dropping" goes on for so long and is so cliched (from a raging battle to "all of southeast Asia" to El Salvador to the "cries of children," of all things). So it's CNN's "Around the World in 30 Seconds," Hunter style. And in the "growing distance from the audience" interpretation, the idea of the performer seeing all of the world's places of pain and hearing "the cries of children" as part of his isolation and elevation is just ... annoying.

But I think a BIG part of the reason it strikes me that way is Garcia. He just has such an emotion-laden, effective singing presence that if HE sings "El Salvador," the impression is just magnified, LOL. Bob could probably add Nicaragua and Haiti and it wouldn't be as jarring to me. When Jerry sings El Salvador, you really HEAR El Salvador :-)

There are other reasons why I think SotM doesn't work as well as Throwin Stones, writing-wise (stop the presses! Barlow beats Hunter!) but I really do think that a big part of the reason I've read it as "more political" may just be Jerry's delivery!

This post was modified by AltheaRose on 2011-08-21 02:48:36

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Aug 20, 2011 7:37pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Dead and 'Politics'

Thanks for the explanation. If I can restate what you are saying, I think it is the topicality of the war references that triggers the aesthetic tripwire. Just to make it completely explicit, I gather you are associating Hunter with relatively orthodox anti-war left wing ideology? Southeast Asia is obviously the urtext for the 60s antiwar movement, and the Reagan administration was providing support for the government of El Salvador which was regarded by many as supporting human rights violations. So, when you hear those places named in the song, it triggers specific associations to the political conflicts over those events, which clashes with the generally timeless/archetypal concepts of the band's songs.

I think those are accurate and valid associations, but I do not think they are actually central to the meaning of the song, and Jerry doesn't start singing "Why didn't people vote for Mondale?" or anything that drags the song down into polemic.

Let me try to put it another way - you could stretch and say that "Wharf Rat" is a political song about the mistreatment of handicapped alcoholics who have to beg on the street for a dime for coffee, and urban decay. Of course, that's not what the song is really about - and honestly, I don't think "Standing on the Moon" is actually any more political than "Wharf Rat" despite the references. I think it is a song about loneliness and distance and wishing for human closeness.

Now, let me flip around and say that I think it is true that Hunter kind of messed up with the lyrics that bother you - because I think the topicality of the war references does undermine the "universal" aspect of the song. It's kind of like a version of "Wharf Rat" which is set in Detroit and makes reference to factories closing down - the specific historical references can distract from the real message.

Still, I think in performance the intended meaning of SotM comes through, because the emphasis and weight of the song is on the "Be with you" idea - you say you don't have any performances of it in your collection (color me shocked!) but Jerry would usually do an extended series of vocal variations that made the song hit a very deep, emotional place. I've linked this show before, but here is a Late Late version where Garcia gives a really exquisite vocal performance - in terms of control and expressiveness and dynamics, he could do things at the end that had never been possible before, because of the removal of stage monitors. The vocal on this recording is just achingly crisp and clear.

http://www.archive.org/details/gd94-10-05.sbd.unknown.6483.sbeok.shnf

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Poster: AltheaRose Date: Aug 20, 2011 9:19pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Dead and 'Politics'

Well, the topicality (in the sense of loss of universality), but also the shallowness, glibness and predictability of the rapid-fire references. I guess I could be categorized as a pretty "orthodox anti-war left wing" person (at least by my parents, LOL, who think I'm the Family Communist), but in fact I tend to react very strongly against over-generalization and sweeping assessments that seem kneejerk. The "One From Column A, One From Column B" tour of the World's Problems does trigger my standard Annoyance Reaction. I know this is being glib myself, but it just seems like something written to be performed on Live Aid. (OK Jerry, join in the chorus of "We are the world ...")

Do you happen to remember a song from the '80s called Botswana? It had lyrics about "children with flies in their eyes." It annoyed the heck out of me even then because Botswana has actually been one of the few true African success stories. It's got all kinds of issues with AIDS now, but it's been stable and a pretty good place to live and in the '80s it certainly did NOT suffer from famine like, say, Ethiopia. (Which is really really FAR from Botswana. Sheesh, news flash to songwriters: countries are different.)

The lyrics here trigger the same annoyance over global cliches. Interestingly, Throwing Stones does not. (And, um, Wharf Rat would definitely have been destroyed by topical references to the homeless in Detroit! I shiver at the very thought. Although I actually can like topical references a lot. Done right.)

Yeah, I'm very weak on Late Dead. I'm sure I don't have a huge collection compared to other folks here (I have not exceeded 10,000 songs like CC!), and what I have is mainly from the first 20 years. I'm learning a lot from what you post! I like to think there's neat stuff later on; it's just, well, limited time, plus I don't love the MIDI, plus I can only buffer piecemeal (can't easily stream a whole show). I wasn't a particularly "active Deadhead" after the mid 80s and Jerry's death was definitely a kind of closure for me for a long time; I just started listening a lot and collecting a lot after I found the archives a couple years back, so I've got a lot to learn! I really was not aware of some of the later tunes like SotM until recently. Sad but true :-)



This post was modified by AltheaRose on 2011-08-21 04:19:17

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Poster: William Tell Date: Aug 20, 2011 9:19pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Dead and 'Politics'

I never even heard of the song; I thought it was a Police cover for a while til someone here explained it to me...

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Poster: AltheaRose Date: Aug 20, 2011 9:35pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Dead and 'Politics'

Now that's a scary thought. I also can't stand the Police. Hey, this can turn into a thread about All Things Annoying in Music! :-)

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Poster: William Tell Date: Aug 21, 2011 6:40am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Dead and 'Politics'

I was that way when I first heard them at the time, and for many yrs...but, if you are ever exposed to anyone that loves them, and watch them play day after day after day (DVDs and such), day in and day out because you are forced to, you may change...they are actually amazing. I hated to admit it, but the were. Now, Sting, etc., makes me gag, but the group, as a whole, I now really like. Never thought I'd say that....what about Talking Heads, Ramones and the Clash? You love them, right? Were the Police too pop?

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Poster: AltheaRose Date: Aug 21, 2011 6:48am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Dead and 'Politics'

Talking Heads, yes. Ramones and the Clash ... liked them OK, but not hugely. At that time I got into stuff that was either edgier or artier (Dead Kennedys, Pere Ubu, Au Pairs, Laurie Anderson, B52s, Violent Femmes, Love and Rockets) ... also folkier (The Roches, etc) but that's a whole other direction. I don't like Sting's voice (whiny, though not as whiny as Morrissey) and something about the beat and slickness just rubs me wrong. I do like REM; that's kind of pop-ish, I guess ...

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Poster: William Tell Date: Aug 21, 2011 7:04am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Dead and 'Politics'

Same view here at the time; it's the playing that hooked me...Sting is ONE of the best bass players, esp live, and that Copeland can drum. The lead player is okay, but the other two make that a band to contend with...and then once you're watching, the tunes start to seep in, and before you know it, you think the lyrics are good. It can happen.

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Poster: AltheaRose Date: Aug 21, 2011 7:23am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Dead and 'Politics'

Oh, I'd never say he's "bad" or anything ... I'm sure he's good, objectively speaking ... my ears just don't like it. Maybe like you and, say, '89 GD :-)

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Poster: William Tell Date: Aug 21, 2011 9:50am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Dead and 'Politics'

Actually, I'd say all his post-police stuff is "bad", both to my ear and objectively speaking (they are one in the same, n'est-ce pas?... ;) ). And when he opens his mouth anywhere but on stage, I always hate what comes out...what an egomaniac.